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Quote of the Day

Lady Liberty

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.


Sunday, June 20, 2004

The Washington Post's John F. Harris nails Clinton in another big lie:
In February 1998, after Hussein blocked U.N. inspectors from entering Iraq, Clinton warned: "What if he fails to comply, and we fail to act? Or we take some ambiguous third route, which gives him yet more opportunities to develop this program of weapons of mass destruction and continue to press for the release of the sanctions and continue to ignore the solemn commitments that he made? Well, he will conclude that the international community has lost its will. He will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction. And some day, some way, I guarantee you he'll use the arsenal."

In the Time interview, Clinton said "I never really thought" Hussein would use his weapons but did worry that Iraqi weapons might be sold or given away.
Was Clinton lying in 1998 when he "guaranteed" that Saddam would use his WMDs, or is he lying now when he says "never really thought" Saddam would use them?

The correct answer is Clinton was lying then, and he's still lying now. For Clinton, truth is irrelevant. If he happens to speak the truth, it is only by coincidence.

Clinton's latest lie is simply part and parcel of the never-ending process of "triangulation," the process though which Clinton constantly modifies his message to maneuver himself as close as possible to whatever point of view can encompass the largest share of popular opinion at a particular moment.

In this instance, the opinion toward which Clinton is triangulating is summed up precisely in the title of Harris's Washington Post article: "Clinton Backs Bush on Iraq War But Questions Invasion's Timing". If one believed that Saddam did intend to use WMDs, and the threat was as real and as pressing as Clinton's "guarantee" suggested, then the question of timing would be a minor quibble. But if one did not believe that Saddam intended ever to use his WMDs, which is the position Clinton now takes, then one cannot make the case that it was better to attack sooner rather than later.

This weasely triangulation entails the additional benefit of allowing Clinton to assert that, contrary to appearances, he did not lack the will to stand up to Saddam Hussein. His failure to do so was not a lack of fortitude, but a problem of timing. "I had the balls to take on Saddam, but my eight years in office ended before the time was ripe."

Maybe it really was somehow a difficulty Clinton had with timing. Clinton did earn his reputation as The Great Procrastinator. The lovely thing about procrastination is that it allows one always to have it both ways. A postponed act is neither fully chosen nor fully rejected. Even after the moment for action has passed, we can comfort ourselves with the thought of what we intended to do and excuse ourselves with the recollection of the barriers that prevented completion. If events happen to turn out well despite our failure to take matters in hand, we can congratulate ourselves for the wisdom of our restraint. If, heaven forfend, we are finally forced by events to take some action, if things don't go smoothly, we can protest that we opposed the decision.

That's what makes Clinton's triangulation so appealing to popular opinion. He positions himself to congratulate popular opinion if the war turns out well ("we all supported it"), but to relieve popular opinion of responsibility if the war turns out badly ("we all thought the timing was bad"). If we are only willing to adopt Clinton's position on the matter, we can take credit for the good and avoid responsibility for the bad.

In the meantime, while excusing his own past dilatoriness, Clinton's triangulation permits himself unlimited scope for criticizing those, like Bush, who did have the fortitude to take action, while at the same time claiming to support him. According to Clinton, Bush should not have attacked Saddam before "allowing the United Nations to complete the inspections process." Yet Clinton forgets the "inspection process" was "completed" at one time, back in 1998 when inspectors were withdrawn because Saddam made the "process" too obviously a charade. Did Clinton take action then? Well, yes, don't you remember? He bombed Iraq for four whole days, and then followed up by doing . . . exactly nothing. What was the purpose of that bombing? Was it to remove Saddam? No, Clinton avoided any claim of that purpose. Instead he justified the bombing this way:
. . . over the past year, Saddam has repeatedly sought to cripple the inspections system. Each time, through intensive diplomatic efforts backed by the threat of military action, Saddam has backed down. When he did so last month, I made it absolutely clear that if he did not give UNSCOM full cooperation this time, we would act swiftly and without further delay.

For three weeks, the inspectors tested Saddam's commitment to cooperate. They repeatedly ran into roadblocks and restrictions, some of them new. As their Chairman, Richard Butler, concluded in his report to the United Nations on Tuesday, the inspectors no longer were able to do their job. So far as I was concerned, Saddam's days of cheat and retreat were over.
Sure, Clinton claimed that the aim of the bombing was to degrade Saddam's WMD capacity, but that was an after-the-fact justification. In Clinton's eyes, Saddam's unforgivable offense was not that he was threatening the entire civilized world with WMDs, but that he was refusing to cooperate with a "process."

Yet, for Clinton, the termination of a process is no reason to abandon that process and resort to sustained action. One can always hope that a process can be revived. As Clinton said at the close of his four day bombing campaign:
we would welcome the return of UNSCOM and the International Atomic Energy Agency back into Iraq to pursue their mandate from the United Nations
The attempt to revive a process itself becomes a process. Thus, at this very hour, we read of those who want to revive the middle-east peace process, while warning Israel to avoid "actions" that might interfere with the process of reviving the peace process.

"Process" is such a reassuring word. By providing the illusion that something substantial is happening, it insulates us from actually having to commit to the messy and unpredictable business of dealing with the problems we face. Thus, twelve years into the on-again-off-again inspection process, Clinton would have waited for that process to be "completed" (and then presumably restarted, terminated, resumed, postponed, revived, etc. ad nauseam) before taking action. Procrastinators love process, and, as we have become a nation of procrastinators, Clinton's triangulation promises just the sort of comfort so many are looking for. How convenient.

posted by Bathus | 6/20/2004 12:37:00 PM
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